The Trump Premium

I’ve been going to a Web site fairly regularly to check on the movements in the price of Bitcoin and other crypto tokens. This has exposed me to a lot of advertisements to invest in precious metals.

Most of those ads are for coins that are either one ounce of silver or one ounce of gold. Not coins in the “legal tender” sort of way, but round things made of pure metal that are struck with some sort of decoration.

While silver currently shows trading at $19.86 per ounce, I can buy a handsome silver coin for $24.27. The coin will have a picture on each side. Maybe liberty or the ol’ “Don’t Tread on Me” snake. That picture is apparently worth about four and a half bucks.

Unless that is, you want your coin stamped with the image of Donald Trump. In that case, the coin will cost you $25.78. Same amount of silver. Just a bigger markup because the buyer is making a value judgement with his testicles, rather than his brain. (I used the male pronoun intentionally, which now I see is a disservice to all the idiots who identify with different pronouns. But I’m leaving it, so I can keep this parenthetical comment.)

So.

There is a significant market in which people will pay extra for any random shit if it has Trump’s picture on it. I picture running a booth in a flea market, and buying shit from all the other booths, putting a Trump sticker on all that stuff, and selling it for 30% more. (Note: this blog episode is NOT filed under get-poor-quick.)

The idea scales. GMC Tundra Trump Edition. (Note to self: research what model of truck was used to commit murder by the “good people” in Charlotte.)

But in between those extremes is where the real money is. I’m sure most of this stuff already exists: Trump beach chairs. Trump shoes. Trump lamp shades. All that shit. Doorknobs, dildos, drapes. Trump condoms that are actually morning-after pills.

As I type this, I realize that all that shit is out there already. I’m not going to think of a new place to sell Trump’s face to his idiot idolizers that hasn’t been exploited already. But that won’t stop me from trying.

Froot Loops! Now with more Trump!

4

Optimization

Tonight it hit me, as I was giving advice, that I was dispensing wisdom I would do well to listen to myself. It was a question about optimization. Whenever you use that word, you have to know what you are optimizing for. Sometimes I forget.

One of the approximations of social media I engage in is a place called StackOverflow.com. That site and dozens of its sisters are an indispensable resource for programmers and tech folk in general. Some nights, like tonight, when I’m a little adrift, I will stop by over there and see if there are any questions pending I am qualified to answer.

When you’ve been around a while, you realize that there are almost no new questions, and in the major categories there are semi-pro question-answerers who can swiftly point the new question to the ancient answer. For php, you will see the name Barmar time and again, always helpful, always gentle.

But there is a category of question that in general is found to be annoying on Stack Overflow, but that I can answer well. These are questions that go beyond the nuts-and-bolts of a language to get to the heart of what programming really is. I will see the code they post, often a mess, and I can sort through it and figure out what is the actual question.

While others will downvote the question for being a mess, I find an opportunity to teach. I see someone who, with a little help, will see the mess also. My answers are long, and meticulous, but if I feel like I’m answering a homework question I leave out the key stones in the path.

A recent example: Someone had code that took the result of a database query and built an html table. But the result of the query didn’t directly match what was to go into the table. So while drawing the table, the code was also trying to figure shit out.

I suggested that while there was no way I was going to figure out what was wrong with the code as written, I had a simple concept to apply: Think, then Draw. Get all the information set up beforehand so that creating the html was just a brain-dead loop.

I have discovered that I have axioms. One is “Keep the guards close to the gate.” Another, apparently, is “Think, then draw.”

Tonight I came across a question asking for how to optimize a data manipulation operation. Massive data in, then a rearrangement of the data to be more useful later. The code to accomplish the data transform included nested loops, but was pretty tight and pretty clean. “How do I optimize this?” was the question.

I have come to realize that optimization of code is an economic judgement, not a technical one. The most obvious tradeoff: You can use more memory to make your process run faster.

But there is another, more subtle, economic tradeoff. Tonight I answered the optimization question with another economic argument: that Engineer Hours are worth more then CPU milliseconds. I told that person that if their code worked, and there wasn’t a specific problem caused by it, then it was perfect and they should move on to the next problem. I told that programmer to value their own time. Not just for personal reasons, but to better judge how their time could best help their endeavor.

Value your time, but also recognize the cost of your time.

My friends, this is something I do not do well. Where I work, I am moving our stuff from an environment where it was hosted for free, to a place where we will have to pay for the resources. I am, at heart, a cheap bastard. While that does me well at the poker table, it may not always serve the interests of my employer. I am constantly aware that all resources I request will now be billed.

So I spend time, hours of my time, trying to guess how small a footprint I can squeeze into on behalf of our group. I spend hours on elaborate schemes to do more with less. But I am not serving my clients well. I’m not including the cost of my time in the value equation. Things are too slow? I could spend a week doing clever stuff, at a cost to my company of thousands of dollars in my compensation while I defer projects that actually will make things run better, or I could just submit a form and get more RAM for the database, at an incremental cost for the department each month.

In my defense, I HATE filling out forms. I HATE the call that comes after while someone else re-enters the form into a different system, and invariably makes a mistake. I will take a week with the code over an afternoon of nonsense any time. But that is a weakness, not a strength. That is me allowing my own preferences to make decisions that are not properly optimized.

I am, at heart, a person who can take a problem and slice it and slice it and slice it until each part is a simple question, and I can take the answers to those questions and combine them to arrive at the solution. While I’m at it, I’ll make tests so that each part proves itself. When you see my code at the flea market, it will be on the shelf behind the table, where you will have to ask to get a closer look. I am proud of this. But it is not always a good thing.

There was a time I was VP of Software Engineering at a small company, and I did all right in that role. During the dot-com boom I held a pretty dang good team together. I didn’t have to fill out forms then, either. We were all just building something awesome. The calculus of the value of my time was different then; Engineer-hours — my hours — were a commodity; the value only to be realized if the venture succeeded. (Picture Facebook, before Facebook, only far more dynamic, with the fatal flaw of being private.)

Good times, good times. The sleep-optional days of youth. But if I’m going to justify that little walk in the past in this ramble, I have to tie it to the present.

Back then, I was paid well enough but there was never doubt that Engineer Hours were the currency we were paying to make our name. Our data center was a few racks in a room that had once been a bank vault (AWS was decades away yet). Everything, everything, was optimized for minimum CPU.

Tonight, while I was (very gracefully I’m sure) reminding a young coder about the relative value of CPU cycles relative to neuron flashes, I realized that I have not been very good at making that judgement myself. I need to do better. Not just for my team, but for myself. I need to fill out the goddam form, bluster my way to 4x the resources I actually think we need (magnificently tiny, in the scale of my company), and recognize that my time is better spent making new things, rather than helping the old things go.

2

The Bitcoin Plunge is not a Market Correction

It drives me batty to read respected people in national publications talk about the nosedive of Bitcoin and other crypto as a “market correction.”

A market correction happens when the price of a security or a general market of securities overruns any sort of historical baseline for value. When you talk about stocks, there are the simple metrics of how much money a company makes or the value of that company’s assets. There are metrics like that for real estate, municipal bonds, and even manufacturing.

A correction comes when the market realizes that the price has been bid up far past what the underlying value of the asset is. This happens fairly often: people buy stock based on what they expect the performance of the company to be. Sometimes people get excited.

When people say that crypto is no different than the stock market, they are either lying to you or to themselves. There is no P/E report on Bitcoin. No debt-to-asset report on Etherium. Because there is nothing there. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, supporting the value of those tokens.

The price is based on blind faith, sell-shaming, and billionaires spinning a story that ends with them having your money.

The tower is crumbling now; we have been on a roughly monthly cadence hearing about the failure of some sham company that banked everything on crypto always going up. The market plunges, then holds steady for a while, cryptobros in their executive suites sweating as the scam crumbles until they rush for the doors calling back over their shoulders “#HODL!” and another crypto company based on the “always-up” model craters, unable to even tolerate the market that is merely steady.

A true market correction would reduce Bitcoin to just a little bit over zero. I will grant the little bit because Bitcoin is just a little bit useful for things besides being a store of value. Oligarchs have to shift their cash, after all.

4

Hot Times in the City

The temperature went over one hundred degrees here today, as it does sometimes (more often lately, but we all know that). At about 2pm the guys who messed up our ducts came back and fixed out ducts, and life was good — the best cooling this house has ever known. Until about 4pm. That’s when the AC shut down entirely. Hopefully it’s just a matter of replacing (again) the ridiculously huge fuses on the unit. (Although huge fuses mean huge power and BLOWING huge fuses means maybe it’s time to replace the damn thing.)

It’s warm in here right now. Warm enough that my laptop, already prone to run hotter than one would think necessary, essentially shut itself down to prevent it from burning itself up.

My laptop is a MacBook, and they are not generally considered good gaming machines for two reasons: one, the hottest games don’t run on Macs, and two, because Macs aren’t built to dissipate the heat that comes with the massive processing in a modern computer game.

But today I wasn’t running any graphic-intensive game. I did play NetHack for a while, but that is the opposite of graphics-intensive. And because I was playing on NAO, even that processing was happening in a data center somewhere (or perhaps, a linux box under someone’s desk).

MacBooks, when overheating, use a process to simply block out all other programs part of the time, to reduce the load so the computer can cool down. I reached a point today where the safety program was taking up all the time.

I quit any program that was even using the slightest CPU and the situation did not improve. I shut down the machine, waited a few minutes, and started it back up to the slowest reboot since DOS was on floppies, because the kernel task went straight to maximum protection.

Finally, I went to the freezer and pulled out a cold pack I use on my knee. I put the computer to sleep, and set the thing right onto the cold pack, and when I woke it up the machine was happy. For a little while, at least.

I have now used a second cold pack, which is why I’m able to write this right now.

If you search for “Refrigerated Laptop Cooling Pad” or any of a hundred permutations, you will get lots of hits, but none of them are actually refrigerated. They just have lots of fans. And while I’m sure that helps, I’m a little surprised that there’s no active cooling. The top-tier game machines have liquid cooling built directly into the enclosure. It doesn’t seem a stretch to extend the heat sink of a metal-hulled laptop with a refrigerated system to take the heat away.

I’m filing this episode under Get Poor Quick because this is such a golden opportunity for the right person. Get on that, right person! Make the Chill Spot. I’m tired of my laptop shutting itself down!

2

The Cult of Crypto

The price of Bitcoin is about 30% of what it was a few months ago. The other cryptocurrencies (note: they are not currencies) have been similarly battered. Crypto-based businesses are starting to fail. But if you read what the people still clinging to their vapor-money are saying, you will see #HODL, over and over again.

It is simply a typo for “hold”, that feels more insider-y. Like a secret handshake. The purpose of #HODL is simple: to prevent people from selling their crypto stakes. In itself, this could just be construed as financial advice. “This is a volatile asset, and if you panic you will lose.” And that’s good advice for all investors!

But #HODL and the community behind it use the phrase differently. Consider the company MicroStrategies. They have bought into Bitcoin in a big way, and are now using every resource they have to evangelize — to bring new, naïve money into the market. They know that the price of Bitcoin will only go up if they can convince more people to buy it.

Over the last couple of years, companies like MicroStrategies have succeeded in convincing the business press and the impatient segment of the investment population that Here be Riches.

Step 1: get the suckers to buy, to drive up the value of your holdings.

Step 2: prevent the suckers from selling even when it’s in their best interest to do so.

Consider kraken.com. They are a crypto exchange, meaning they make money when people sell or buy tokens through their service*. They recently declared, in the aftermath of the latest crypto price plunge (I’m paraphrasing): Bear markets weed out the weak. The strong will #HODL. We will also spend the money we take from you to lobby the government on behalf of our singular devotion to our mission, even if that means hurting others. And yay guns.” I cannot find articulated on their Web site what the mission is, but it must be important!

There is, from corporate communications right down to reddit, a culture of sell-shaming. The faithful shall come through adversity and inherit the wealth they deserve. Any so timid as to sell shall die in poverty and shame. This intimidation was necessary to keep the crypto bulge alive. In fact, the believers honestly thought that if they could keep people from selling, the price of their favorite crypto token would go up forever.

They believed, simply, that buying Bitcoin was buying into a sacred trust. That anyone who bought crypto was implicitly obligated to #HODL. For the common good.

But the buyers (I will not call them investors) those crypto-pushers needed to inflate the value of their coins diluted their cult. The new wave of buyers saw the historic rise of crypto, and didn’t understand their own role in causing it. But they weren’t part of #HODL; they bought at the worst time and sold at the worst time (until tomorrow), and broke the damn cult.

#HODL! #HODL! #HODL! the cultists cry as the crypto market spirals down. #HODL! These are the true believers, the ones who will #HODL into the ground, but I wonder how the ranks are holding up as airship Bitcoin plunges toward the 20,000 level after being at 69,000 a few months ago. How many people are crying #HODL as they strap on their own parachutes?

* One of the key features of cryptocurrencies is that theoretically there is no central authority. Yet almost everyone buys and sells their tokens through a trusted central exchange.

1

Facebook Project Canceled Due to Sadness (and Facebook)

For a few days I was posting regularly on Facebook. Each night, I would look at the Gun Violence Archive, and then post on Facebook:

Days since a well regulated Militia mass shooting in the United States: 0

El Paso, Texas
Phoenix, Arizona

The typography of “well regulated Militia” is to mirror exactly the way it is written in the Second Amendment. The cities are the places that had a mass shooting that day.

Had I posted a similar message yesterday, it would have listed seven cities. The day before, five.

The definition of “mass shooting” is one I’ve seen here and there: at least four victims, not counting the shooter. This includes those injured, not just killed. Their suffering in many cases is only starting.

There was actually a day when there was not one dang mass shooting in the whole country! Now there’s something to celebrate! It was a Monday. Today, also a Monday, no mass shootings have been recorded so far. Let’s hear it for Mondays!

I thought I might keep it up for a while, to maybe make the whole thing harder to ignore, to maybe open eyes to just how ordinary a mass shooting is in this country. I imagined myself making a difference by showing what the Second Amendment is actually accomplishing.

But I stopped, after only a few days. Tabulating the activities of well regulated Militias is not something to do at bedtime. Not if you want to sleep. Also, it meant I had to be on Facebook, which is unpleasant in it own right.

As a side note, the number of notifications I get when I visit Facebook has dropped dramatically. I wonder if a bunch of people unfriended me because of those posts. I hope so, but I don’t know how to figure that out.

twiliight

It seems the Twilight series is out on a new print run, with a new covers. The covers are striking and pretentious and silly, and I am here to mock them. You don’t have to thank me; it’s what I do.

I had not planned on going to the trouble to find an actual image of this thing, relying instead on my near-mystical abilities of description, but let’s face it, images get the clicks. Here’s the cover:

They did this on purpose

Full disclosure here; I have never read twiliight (apparently) and it’s pretty unlikely I ever will. I have read and enjoyed many things similar to this, even written for a similar demographic, but this whole thing seems pretty awful.

BUT! You will find millions of readers who disagree with me, and the last time I wrote something millions of people liked was never. So my hat is off to the writer of this yarn.

Who is that again?

STEPHENIE MEYER
AUTHOR OF THE #1 BESTSELLING TWILIGHT SAGA

In other words, “Author of the book you are holding in your hands right now.” Which… I figure is kind of implied already. If you decide to read twiliight because it’s written by the person who wrote Twilight— you know what? You’re perfect for this story.

4

Harden the Schools! (And Increase the Body Count)

Let’s spend gigantic dollars making it so every school in our country has only one way in or out, and let’s put people who aren’t actually cowards guarding that one door.

Where I went to fourth grade, it’s hard to imagine how one would even do that. I guess you could put up chain link and razor wire, so that the killer would have to buy both an AR-15, and another AR-15, and hundreds of rounds of ammo — and a bolt cutter! Terrorism deterred! And then I think of recess surrounded by chain link and razor wire.

The place I went to elementary school was not built for security. It was built in an irrational time when threats to society were handled as threats to society.

But for giggles let’s imagine if they could make a single point of entry at my old school. All those kids and parents hovering around that gate would be what the military calls a “target-rich theatre”. A golden opportunity. There is no amount of money you could spend to make schools safe in a world where some asshole can spray a crowd with bullets. Any crowd, anywhere. It might be your grocery store next.

The kickstand of the “well-regulated militia is everyone with gun” crowd is that these killers are a failure of the mental health system, and not an indictment of the industry that sells these people massively powerful tools of destruction. Yet, those same people will block any attempt to keep those same mentally-ill (by their own definition) people from owning guns.

The reason for this is actually pretty simple. Those mentally-ill kids are their children, and they’ve been fed the illness since before they could speak. Those kids slaughtering other children, that man spraying bullets around an Amazon warehouse, have one thing in common. They have unlimited access to extremely powerful weapons.

And while our gun pals would like to say this is a failure of the mental health system, this is exactly the system they prevent from ever being applied.

To get specific: if a kid comes into your gun store and arms up for a massacre, and you sell all that shit to him and also don’t maybe nudge the authorities — you sir, are guilty too, by the very logic of the NRA. Hang that arms dealer up for the buzzards to enjoy. Nothing is going to change until the people that sell these weapons are held accountable.

I’m not saying that all gun dealers are bad, but Jesus Fuck didn’t this dealer have the slightest impulse for social good? Was there not the least little warning sign flashing in the back of their head? Or is that gun salesman just a product of our time — cash the check and fuck the consequences?

And that guy is the true driver behind all this nonsense. That guy is making a lot of money off the second-amendment debate. His candidates and representatives are getting rich, too. Ultimately, there is a simple truth: there is big money in keeping America armed. If those same people could make money turning schools, hospitals, theaters, casinos, stadiums, bus terminals, taxi stands, restaurants, pharmacies, and sidewalks into “hardened” targets, then they will send out a few extra shooters to make sure we spend from fear.

Already we have that it was the school’s fault for not being ready for an armed assault. We have Ted Cruz saying it was a crazy person and simultaneously blocking any attempt to keep crazy people from having access to massively lethal weapons.

FUCK Ted Cruz. FUCK All the motherfuckers taking money from the NRA and bathing in the blood of their own constituents. FUCK the Democrats for not having the liver to face down these motherfuckers. FUCK the Democrats again for saying “vote for us and we will change this” when even when they have the fucking majority in every chamber they don’t change SHIT. FUCK especially Joe Manchin and his fucking fuckbuddy Mitch McConnel. FUCK the fucking filibuster, which used to require effort, but now even when you try to put it back to the way is was When America Was Great, all you get is diaper-shit hand-wringing. And, fuck the GOP especially.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that the only time things get better is when people light things on fire.

4

People Should Listen to Me More Often

You can look at every major financial crash since tulip bulbs and find the underlying fiction that created paper wealth without any value behind it. Handshakes and winks and it’s fun while it lasts.

In April of 2021, I wrote that Bitcoin was a terrible solution to an interesting problem. It is called a cryptocurrency, but it does not match any previous definition of the word “currency”. As an investment it is, in fact, slightly below “bag of magic beans that aren’t actually magic”. At least with those you could make a nice soup. Soon after that episode, the price of a Bitcoin tumbled, then briefly rose to new dramatic heights in November of the same year, and has since steadily eroded.

It is late and rather than sleep I thought tonight I’d read about the latest crypto disaster. Roughly One Trillion Dollars vanished this week. Poof. Gone. Retirements destroyed, hedge funds cratered. Those investors should have listened to me.

Time magazine (wow has that brand been dragged into the dumpster) included this in an article about crypto volatility:

Given that crypto derives some of its value from people’s belief in it, markets can be rattled by surrounding skepticism or policy changes.

Time.com

So, close, yet so far. In fact, crypto derives all of its value from people’s belief in it. There is absolutely no other source of value. If you were to buy gold, and then suddenly everyone decided gold had no value, you could at least make something pretty out of it.

What drove this week’s meltdown is complicated on the surface, and simple in substance. There was a cryptocurrency that was, through elaborate mechanisms including game theory, always supposed to be worth a dollar. While my first question is “why would anyone buy that shit instead of just buying dollars,” apparently plenty of people thought that was a good idea.

So how do the people flogging this investment plan to control the value of the tokens they sell? Part of it is by holding investors hostage – people with a vested interest in maintaining this dollar parity will buy up other people’s tokens to maintain their value. But you can’t always rely on that, so these companies also keep reserves so they can maintain the price by buying up tokens when there is a bunch of people selling.

But… whoops! What if your reserves are in other crypto tokens? What if you need to sell all your Bitcoin ($1.7 billion worth, maybe), but Bitcoin is also falling because someone is trying to sell a shit-ton of it, and even when you’re done, it’s just not enough? Everything goes to shit, is what happens.

It’s a regular cycle. Someone finds a way to create an illusion of value where no value exists. Before crypto, it was weird real estate loan guarentee instruments that created an entire market unto themselves, and led to a near-collapse of our banking system in 2008. That was done by bankers who should have known better, and there were (for a little while) regulations in place to keep it from happening again. In 1929 it was shell companies that all owned each other but not any company that actually made a profit.

Crypto, on the other hand, is a much more egalitarian fraud. Anyone can play! Elon Musk used the power of his twitter account to rob countless less-wealthy people through Bitcoin price manipulation (he claims he was not being corrupt, just stupid – but both can be true).

One thing that none of the press I read tonight mentions – Bitcoin uses lots and lots of electricity. When the cost of power goes up, ultimately that has to effect the value of their tokens.

Universally the press has treated the crypto crater just like they would any other investment issue. Treating crypto with the same words they would use for something that has intrinsic value. That’s simply not right. None of them are saying “This is all fake! Get out while you still can!”

I could create a crypto tonight, call it “eco-coin” and vaguely suggest that we only accept electricity from windmills, or at least I’ve seen some pretty bitchin’ windmills, windmills are cool, so you should invest in eco-coin. If I could catch the ear of the Master Influencer at Credulous Weekly, eco-coin would be off to the races.

In terms of actual value, my new crypto would be worth exactly the same as Bitcoin: zero. I’ll finish this episode with the same words I used to start it: You can look at every major financial crash since tulip bulbs and find the underlying fiction that created paper wealth without any value behind it. Handshakes and winks and it’s fun while it lasts.

1

Pod Life

It was in late 2001 or early 2002. I was on an airplane, and I pulled 1000 songs out of my pocket, was navigating to find the album I wanted, when a man in the row behind me leaned forward and asked through the gap between seats, “What is that thing?”

It was an iPod. Until its release, there had never been anything like it. The mechanical click-wheel of those early versions was just so satisfying and intuitive, navigating through a large collection of songs was simple, even with the tiny black-and-white screen. “It passes the blonde test,” a blonde friend of mine said after a few seconds with the device.

Part of the iPod of course was timing. Suddenly it was possible to fit a hard drive (yes, an actual spinning-disk drive) and a battery into a little case with enough storage to play music. But on top of that was the design. Anybody could make a music player, but only Apple could have made the iPod.

And only the iPod could save Apple. There was a huge battle inside Apple over whether the iPod would work with Windows computers. Steve Jobs was absolutely against it. Steve got his way most of the time, but in this case ultimately other voices carried the day, and while Steve was not the least bit gracious in conceding, he was later able to recognize that decision as a turning point for the company. It was the moment the gadgets were allowed to grow independently of Macs, and eventually the gadgets became the center of the Apple ecosystem. And here we are now.

Today (or, recently at least, I don’t pay close attention) Apple announced that they will not be making any more iPods. It’s just as well; the iPod is now just an iPhone without the phone. The iPod nano was probably the pinnacle of the “thing that plays music” Apple offerings, although it was not as viscerally satisfying to use as its clunky ancestors. I have one of those around here somewhere as well.

The only surprise I felt at the announcement was that the company I work for was still making iPods up until now. It seems like once the pod had to play video it wasn’t really an iPod anymore (says this grumpy old man).

But… the headphones I wear could fit a click wheel. A million songs in your ear. Anyone want to make that real?

4

Breakfast of Champions

Green Chile Cheesy Bagel!

Featuring “Some guy in Albuquerque with a roaster in his garage” brand chiles! The best!

5

A Message I Wrote Tonight to Dev Davis, who Wants to be My Mayor, about Tough Love

Edit for context: Dev Davis wants more cops as part of her solution for homelessness – although saying that finding shelter for the homeless is a county problem.

This whole ‘tough love’ thing is based on some pretty shaky premises. Underneath it all, you are saying it’s a county problem, solved by county programs. Not your budget, and if the county falls short of helping these people then lets get some more cops to move them out.

Your assumption is that if the county safety net misses someone, they WANT TO BE HOMELESS. They want to live each day without running water, or shelter, a good meal, or even the protection of the police you want more of to protect US from THEM. They must not want access to health care. So your “love” is to kick them around until… what? What even is your ideal outcome?

The entire idea that withholding services from people who have NOTHING will make things better is laughable.

Go down to the river, Dev. Meet those people. Children, elderly, purple-heart vets. Tell them to their faces about your tough love.

1

A Few More Thoughts About Rick

Rick Markus was my father-in-law, and he died recently. He leaves behind a gaggle of grieving daughters, an autistic son, and a gun collection that will likely have to leave California. He also leaves behind a workshop filled with wondrous tools.

I love tools. I like to build things. But I am horribly, awfully slow at building things. In this metric, the old man far surpassed me. I was talking with The Boys about it this evening, and I said that before he could make a thing he had to make the thing that would allow him to configure the tool to make the thing.

But I left out a step. First, Rick had to make a thing to measure the precision of the tool he was going to use to make the thing that would enable him to make the thing. And once he had an empirical measure of the tool, the next step was to make a thing to compensate for the tool, to make the tool better, so when he made the thing he would use to make the thing, it would be right.

If you wanted to demonstrate the axiom “perfection is the enemy of progress” you need look no farther than the shed where he spent his time. His massive drill press would deflect under pressure; he addressed it. He rebuilt parts of his metal lathe (itself a fine specimen) to improve precision.

I am not the slowest person on the planet to get projects done. Or at least I wasn’t before Rick died. Maybe now I am.

He built, as far as I know, very little.

So now there’s this lathe, that he machined parts to improve, and I don’t know what to do about that. I don’t work metal; maybe someday I’d like to but that’s a different me in a different place. There’s that big ol’ drill press, also upgraded, waiting for someone who needs to drill a hole.

There are hundreds of tools in that shed, from the press and the lathe to boxes of taps and dyes. There is sheet metal tucked away, milled to absurd smoothness, that he picked up from the scrap heap when he was working with the x-ray lithography kids at IBM. He had no use for that stuff, but he just couldn’t let go of such an excellent piece of engineering. It’s hard to recognize that something that took so much effort to create is now simply scrap.

Is that a metaphor? If you want it to be, sure, knock yourself out. But keep it to yourself; if Rick heard your theory he would give you a sideways glance and say “ooooh-kay” and resume his story about solving the impossible problem of corruption in magnetic core memory, or the time he shortened the run time of a batch job at some data center by pointing out that the terminal had a bell.

It’s funny, contrasting the pragmatic and efficient solutions he found in his professional career against the optimizing-for-the-sake-of-optimization that marked the time I knew him. I think it comes down to this: when he was working for someone else, he optimized for what they wanted. Efficiency. Expediency. When he was working only for himself (or his family), only perfection was good enough.

11

That Reply I got From Aptera

If you follow this blog you might recall a while back I wrote about a car company called Aptera. I got super-excited about the product, tried to ask more questions, and hit a brick wall. The wall wasn’t so much about the company hiding things, as it was about the people fielding the questions not being trained on how to refer them to the people with the answers.

I ended that episode, and the following updates, promising that if I heard from Aptera again, I would let you know. Then I did hear from them, and I didn’t let you know. Not cool on me.

In fact I later got a very nice letter back, that specifically addressed my core questions. Well, maybe not fully answering, but framing expectations. I have to say, the use of exclamation points really helped to sell me. They’re excited!

I’m going to put the whole message below. I expect I’ll fail to match the well-formatted text I received. Just the look of the message indicates that some care was put into creating it. You will have to take my word for it.

Does this restore my faith in the venture? To be honest, it does, at least a little bit. My desire for an outfit like this to succeed has almost nothing to do with my own transport, and everything to do with making cities in the western United States less carbon-awful.

Anyway, here’s the full reply that I promised before.

Hi Jerry,
I sincerely apologize that they were not able to get your questions answered! We are more than happy to assist. To give you some clarity into the situation, we are required to use a third-party platform/company to accept investors’ funds and work with the SEC to ensure compliance. This is not directly managed in any way by Aptera. So when you email [email protected], it does not go to anyone on the Aptera team, it goes to an outsourced support team that specializes in financial inquiries related to the investing process.
Please find answers to your questions below: 

  • Strangely, the Gamma body was due in Q3, and supply chain sorting-out for Q3 and Q4. /  Gamma production in Q4.

We had aspired to make a production-intent vehicle by the end of this year. We think we’re pushing that into next year, but hopefully not too far into next year. We’ve signed some significant agreements that we think will provide us parts in 2022 at a greater scale than we were anticipating before. So we think once we pull the trigger on manufacturing, we will be able to scale rapidly, and really start to crank out vehicles. But getting to that start of production is later than what we had expected at least a year or two ago. In addition, we do not have any plans to change pricing at this time. 

• Have the “Betas vehicles” been built?

The Beta builds are underway! We have a new 80,000 sq. foot assembly facility which is complemented by two additional spaces nearby for beta development, R&D, and solar composite manufacturing. We look forward to sharing our progress with you as we continue this phase of testing and development. Please stay tuned for video updates on our social channels such as YouTube. Betas are in progress! Here is our November update:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GK-aamqGZS4.

• How is test validation going?

We look forward to sharing this with you over the next several months as we make more progress in the beta stage! We recently stepped into this phase and as progress is made we will provide updates directly from our CEOs Chris Anthony and Steve Fambro. We’re looking forward to announcing more information to our supporters. We are having all the betas being completed for the development vehicles to send to suppliers and validate production parts. The path to production did not happen as quickly as we had originally anticipated, but nevertheless, we are making great progress and cannot wait to launch. 

Please let us know if you have any questions. We are more than happy to assist. We are committed to moving mobility in a direction of sustainability and innovation. We cannot thank you enough for your support.  

The message was signed “Aptera Team”, and had a bunch of links to various social media.

At this point, with this message that really had very little of substance, I’m all excited again. Maybe this actually can be the car that breaks oil. Maybe this is the car that an inner-city grandma can afford to operate, and not have to worry about gas prices. It could be a game-changer.

Maybe it won’t be, but tonight at least, with all the things and whatnot gong on, I’d like to see this as part of a carbon exit strategy.

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See You Tomorrow, Rick

Those were the last words I said to my father-in-law. He was surrounded by concerned daughters hoping to find the optimum pillow configuration for his knees — so much attention — so I just kind of called it in from the hallway. His eyes moved to acknowledge me.

That was yesterday, and I did not see him today, and I won’t ever again.

I believed it when I said it. Mostly. He was going downhill fast, but I had created a moment in my head, just for us, tomorrow, without four daughters pestering us, when we could just sip beers for a bit. Not talking. I’m not a talker in times like that, I have learned.

I imagined a time of peace, for him, for me. Saturday night the sons-in-law had gathered around the bed and Rick just wanted a beer. I failed that night, though maybe Rick did too: He could have had all the beer he wanted if he only leaned on someone. That night I could have, should have, said, “it’s going to hurt like a motherfucker but I can prop you up and you can lean back against me and have your beer.” Rick didn’t want to be propped up. He didn’t want to lean on anyone. But I think right then I could have talked him into it, and I think he would have been glad I did.

A pretty little alternate history.

After that night a new bed was installed in the house, one that could allow him to sit up, and one of his final memories is being carried from his bed to another room, and I know he hated every moment of it. But no one wanted him on that magical bed more than I did. Lacking the cloud of daughters, I would have hoisted him up and carried him myself. I was a tiny incorrect minority, who thought his life might yet go on awhile and this action might make him more comfortable for the duration. People linger beyond expectations, sometimes, when they want to. Sometimes even when they don’t.

And I thought that maybe, in a quiet moment, one without words, I could snap open a cold Budweiser for Rick, ease it into his hands, then open one for myself, and say goodbye the way I know how. But that is not what happened, so I will simply say again,

See you tomorrow, Rick.

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